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This curriculum is organized into five chapters, and follows the life of Levi Strauss as a guide to studying the history of San Francisco. This resource expands upon Levi’s story by speaking to the diverse range of experiences that marked the California Gold Rush period. Alongside Levi’s achievements, we see the development of a city, the rise of industrialization, and the emergence of the blue jean as a symbol of durability and perseverance. Through Levi’s story, we can examine the oppression and antisemitism that led to many European Jews emigrating to the U.S., as well as the larger story of nineteenth-century immigration to California, its impacts on Native peoples, and the transformation of the West. 

The settlement of the American West is a complex story, because in the process of westward expansion and migration, Native American peoples were subjugated and dispossessed. This period is also characterized by slavery, the Civil War, and exclusion of and discrimination towards Chinese immigrants. This curriculum is focused on Levi Strauss’s immigrant story and the invention of the blue jean, and through the prism of this particular story, students and teachers are also asked to engage in contemporary dialogue on the various historic aspects of this time period. 

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style, on view at The CJM from February 13–August 9, 2020, was the largest public display of materials from the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives ever assembled. Drawing from the garments, objects, and ephemera in their remarkable collection, this curriculum provides students an opportunity to engage and analyze primary source materials of the late nineteenth century. In the 1850s, California represented a far-off utopia for people around the world—an escape from harsh political conditions, famine, and strife. Through this curriculum, students will gain insights into how this early wave of global migration, coupled with the advent of industrialization, transformed the western United States. 


Support for Levi Strauss: A History of American Style is generously provided by Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Gaia Fund; John Pritzker Family Fund; Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund; Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; Mimi and Peter Haas Fund; The David Berg Foundation; John & Marcia Goldman Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Colleen and Robert D. Haas; Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg, in honor of Paulette Meyer and David Friedman, and Catherine and James Koshland; Kendra and Tom Kasten, in honor of Robert D. Haas; Michael Righi; Dorothy R. Saxe; David Saxe; Marilyn and Murry Waldman; and Rosanne and Al Levitt.

Lead Corporate Sponsorship is provided by Levi’s®.

Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED. In-kind support is provided by Corduroy Media. 

School and Teacher Programs are made possible by generous support from The Bavar Family Foundation, California Arts Council, and Toole Family Charitable Foundation.

Image Credit

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style (installation view), at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 2020. Photo by Gary Sexton Photography